Dear Stybsy

Posted in Command Tower on December 17, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

With the end of the year nearly upon us, we're taking two weeks to revisit the best articles from DailyMTG in 2015. If you didn't catch some of these the first time around, do yourself a favor and read on. Then, join us back on December 28 as Oath of the Gatewatch previews get underway in earnest!

Happy Holidays!

Magic is a complicated game. There's no way around the fact. While it's simple to understand that we cast spells to defeat our opponents, the myriad of cards and rules working together to make that happen is astounding.

Teferi's Puzzle Box | Art by Donato Giancola

Of course, we play Commander—a complicated way to play a complicated game. Like life, it's full of apparent contradictions and tough questions we might never find the answers to.

Except I have all the answers.

A few weeks ago, I asked you to send in your questions for a "Dear Abby"-style Q&A, pulling in great questions from both email and Twitter. Whether these Commander questions are easy or tough, here are the best answers you can find for them—at least until someone from the Rules Committee shows up.

Gathering a consistent Commander group can be difficult for a number of reasons. Some players prefer to play many formats, or specifically not-Commander Magic. Some players are unreliable and can't be counted on to be there. Some players just don't like playing the same players regularly. Some players can't stand to meet at a convenient location for everyone else.

Wrangling Magic players is hard. Just ask your local game store's judge for Friday Night Magic.

Once you understand why your local group isn't working, you can try to fix it. Try alternate rules and special construction requirements (Pauper Commander, anyone?) to satisfy adventurers. If you need more people, go find them—preconstructed deck in hand—and ask them to give Magic a try.

And that's not to say face-to-face Magic is exclusively the way to play Commander. Setting up a video call between friends over the internet and playing Commander on Magic Online might be the ticket. If nothing seems to work, it might be your expectations and location that need to be adjusted.

The amount of spot removal I think needs to be in a deck is precisely the amount it wants—no more and no less.

What I think you're asking me is whether players run too few spot removal spells in decks. That's a much tougher one to tackle. I believe efficiency is important for Commander decks. A card like Crux of Fate or End Hostilities will answer far more creatures at once than Murderous Cut or Silence the Believers. You get more bang for your buck with those sweeping sorceries than with a single stinging instant.

I like to keep a mix and hedge on giving myself choices. More players should consider single-target removal when it can be flexible for your needs: Suppression Bonds, Hero's Downfall, Mortify, Putrefy, and even Return to the Earth all cover multiple bases. Those extra choices add up to make up for not scorching the earth with every removal spell.

It's Tragic Arrogance if sweepers are all anyone considers.


If your deck's theme is making the commander awesome, build around the commander. If you have a sweet deck theme, find the commander that fits.

It's your choice, not the other way around. Choose what feels right.

Just pile up cards at random, using the first legendary creature you hit as a commander and excluding every card you find that can't be used. This will help.

(Please share your results later if you do this. We'll call the format "Comrandomer.")

Choose one or both:

  • It's less problematic for most players than my hyperbole makes it out to be.
  • The Commander Rules Committee hates me.

Players like to win, and many will go for it regardless of the circumstances.

I think there's a place for powerful combos and game-ending synergies in Commander. When everyone has had a dance in the spotlight and is spent and a magical moment happens, it's great to end a game that's gone on too long.

Players doing this on the sixth turn of the game, then apologizing for it after showing off their combo, are still learning Commander. They're aware it's unpleasant for other players—they apologized, after all—but haven't owned the decision to actually cast the cards that early. Having a combo in hand doesn't mean you have to cast it, after all.

The best you can do is talk to them, and share that apologies don't make experiences better; a different experience next time will. Encourage the great Commander plays you're after.

You should have stopped killing them on the spot first. Maybe.

There's two way I can read your question. If they're playing dangerous commanders known for winning games quickly and they have the decks that ensure it happens, the failure lies in everyone not agreeing on the Commander experience they're seeking. Building on a common understanding is hard, but pointing to a common ground on which to start might help.

If they have a troubling commander but a wild, random, mostly fun deck that isn't built to min-max their way to victory in a few turns, then you've just picked on someone without good reason. Good commanders can have "terrible" decks, just as an odd commander can come equipped with a powerhouse of multiplayer behind it. Letting them play with the former is totally awesome.

If you haven't discussed why someone is getting focus-fired upon, and vetted if that was a reasonable course of action or not, then there's more difficult motivations at work than just the random Rafiq of the Many you made sure never went anywhere.

I don't. Some members of the Commander Rules Committee do a great job sharing the philosophy I defer to.

Dear Stybs,

My friends and I love playing different Magic formats, and since we can't meet as often as we used to, we try to squeeze in a few different games in each session. The problem with multiplayer—particularly Commander—is that all-in brawls take a lot of time. Two-Headed Giant gets weighed down in tactical planning. Star matches can be effective (if a bit back-stabby), but we don't always have exactly five players. What fun variants can you recommend that allow everyone to play together, while also leaving time to play more games?

With thanks and token appreciation,


Multiplayers rumbles take time because players take time. Other than everyone putting in the practice to play at the speed professional players do—somehow managing to juggle the information overload of a four-or-more-player game, too—the best solution might be to make your own Commander rule: Each turn lasts one minute for the player.

Your decks will likely change, since nobody will want to tutor or search their deck for things, and you might need to work out how blocking works for timing, but accelerating turns all the way will give you what you want.

Otherwise, plan for Commander less frequently but with more time dedicated to it.

What made the banned cards in Commander, well, banned? I've tried to find a list that explains them, but it doesn't seem to exist. It's important to understand why cards are banned, so we can decide for ourselves when the "others like them" clause is relevant. For example: I expect that Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is banned because it enables infinite turns with a two-card combo, but I don't know that for fact. If correct, then I shouldn't use any two-card infinite-turn combos (IE: Charnelhoard Wurm plus Temporal Extortion). I don't see how Emrakul is different than other two-card auto-wins.

- Mike

You can't find an easy list of cards and reasons because it doesn't exist. The archive of banned list announcements and discussions on the official Commander website is one place I'd trawl through. Lots of the cards added in recent years are discussed there, and the archive will help shed some light on things for you.

Hi Adam. Knick here, and my question is as follows: Commander is a multiplayer format. How do you deal with an early blowout? It's pretty simple when one player does something awesome and machineguns players in two or three turns, but what do you do when one players gets knocked out and it's clear that the game is going to go on for another half hour? Several players in my group like to put bounties on killing players, but "first one out has to do the dishes from dinner" seems like a bit much.

Your question ends with a preposition.

- Knick

I have an unhealthy love for copy editors. They make me seem smarter than I am, but not even they can save me from myself when I'm asking questions. [Editor's note: Prepositions are fine things to end sentences with.]

If there are bounties to knock players out fast, then you're incentivizing the behavior you don't want. Stop that.

My suggestion is to have Magic Duels on your phone handy, for use during that bonus half hour you have if you're the first to go.

I hope you had as much fun seeing these answer as I had creating them. Give me a shout-out on Twitter (I'm @the_stybs!) if you enjoyed this format for an article. I'm willing to revisit it again when the time's right.

This week's question is one for those who enjoy what opponents have to offer: What was your favorite commander to play against, and why?

  • Feedback via email in English
  • 300 word limit to share the commander and decklist
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type. Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

Sometimes, the entertainment in a game of Commander isn't in our own hands. I've built and played dozens of decks in my years of 100-card adventures, but it's frequently been someone else's deck that's excited me the most. I want to know the stories that made your Commander experience something far better than you ever expected.

Join us next week when we all win together. See you then!

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